During the pandemic we all learned some new words. “Learning pods.” “Bubbled up.” Parents were doing all they could to make sure their kids didn’t fall behind socially and academically while they were distance learning. The parents of Hope Gardens were no different. They knew their children needed support, too…and so Lei’s Learning Lab was born.
We offered parents the option to send their children to the Lab during school hours for support while distance or hybrid learning, and Wally, our social work intern, was put in charge. Wally was there to help kids stay focused, to help solve a math problem or computer issue, and to facilitate discussions with the kids about issues of the day.
Wally took pains to make Lei’s Place into a classroom atmosphere where the kids could feel comfortable doing their work. He helped them set goals for the year, and of course, they talked a lot about life during COVID: Explaining why it was important to follow the CDC rules. Discussing how learning was changing, from distance, to a hybrid model, to going back to class full time. Listening to the children share what they liked and didn’t like about each learning model. And encouraging them to understand that being in lockdown could help them develop new skills.
As the year passed, Lei’s Learning Lab marked the seasons. Halloween, and safely celebrating during COVID, was a topic for October. In November, the class devoted a lot of time to discussion of the presidential election, President Trump’s term in office, and each candidate’s goals for the coming years. December brought discussions on winter celebrations—Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa—and how to connect with family and friends through Zoom or Facetime. January centered on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his commitment to peaceful protest, and connections with the Black Lives Matter movement of today. In February, the kids marked Black History Month and the contributions of Black Americans to society, past and present.
As the COVID vaccines became more available in March and April, the children discussed the types of vaccines, their benefits, side effects, and why medical workers, essential workers, and seniors were first in line. When COVID restrictions were lifted, the class examined why it was taking so long for things in the world to get back to normal, and why they still needed to follow CDC rules to be safe.
As the school year ended, the children brainstormed ideas for summer activities and talked about plans for the summer. They took a look back over the past year, reviewed their schoolwork, and shared the best and worst things that happened during the year–whether school-related or COVID related. And they looked ahead by setting goals for the next school year—back in the classroom.